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Thursday, 28 May 2020

Lorraine Hansberry and one BIG typewriter!

When I opened page 70 of the May 11 New Yorker, the image jumped out at me as none other has ever done before. Wow! I said to myself, now that’s one BIG typewriter! The photo appeared with a theatre article by Vinson Cunningham titled “Life’s Work: The Drama of Lorraine Hansberry”. Of course, I went straight to Richard Polt’s extensive “Writers and Their Typewriters” list on his Classic Typewriter Page, and sure enough, there it was: Lorraine Hansberry: IBM Model 01.
The image was among many taken in April 1959 at Hansberry’s apartment at 337 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan (remember the great Paul Simon song from 1964?). The photographer was David Attie, most famous for his Breakfast at Tiffany’s Brooklyn pictures. Hansberry was still 28 at the time, and her brilliant play A Raisin in the Sun had premiered on Broadway just a month earlier.

        Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, born in Chicago on May 19, 1930, was the first African-American female author to have a play performed on Broadway and A Raisin in the Sun won her the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. She was the first African-American dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright to win the award. Hansberry had worked at the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, where she dealt with such luminaries as Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. She died of pancreatic cancer on January 12, 1965, aged just 34.

        Hansberry’s small stature now doubt exaggerates the size of the IBM Model 01. It is, after all, 19½in wide, 16½in long and almost 10in high. Unfortunately, I can’t find how much it weighs, but it must be massive. Here are 1960 photos of Hansberry with the same machine:

The IBM Model 01’s life began in 1933 when IBM acquired the tools, patents and production facilities of Electromatic Typewriters in Rochester, New York. IBM invested a further $1 million to redesign the Electromatic typewriter (first introduced in 1924 by North East Electric and called the Electromatic from 1929). In 1935, the Model 01 was introduced to the market. Nonetheless, when it appeared in the windows of the Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation among other Rochester-made products in mid-April 1938, it was still something new and fascinating for the general public to see.

In 1941 IBM added proportional letter spacing but World War II delayed production until 1944. In 1946 Ronald Dempster Dodge (1906-1980) manager of the development engineering department at IBM in Poughkeepsie, shared the Franklin Institute Medal for his “outstanding contribution to physical science or technology”. This was related to his skill in designing and developing the mechanism for proportional spacing. A graduate of the Rochester School of Technology, he became involved in electric typewriter work at North East Electric in 1928, aged just 22. He moved to IBM’s Poughkeepsie lab in 1944. He died in Lexington, Kentucky, a member of the IBM Quarter Century Club and an IBM Fellow.

Dodge was not alone in developing the machine which would become the big IBM electric. Another heavily involved was German-born 'Richard' Von Reppert (real name Sebastian Arnold von Reppert, 1877-1973). In the mid-30s von Reppert was also working on a single type element design for the Burnell Laboratory in Locust Valley, New York.
The images below are of an earlier (1937?) model of the IBM, with a larger vent on the ribbon spool cover than Hansberry's machine. The photos were taken by David Thompson, a volunteer curator at Museums Victoria who looks after the museum's typewriter collection. MV's IBM was donated to it by the company's Australian branch.


Bill M said...

I wonder how it compares to the Hermes Ambassador. It looks like a bigger footprint.
I'm behind (as usual) with the New Yorker. Thank you for your posts Robert. You always remind me to read my New Yorker when it arrives: not weeks later.

Richard P said...

I hadn't seen these other pictures from the shoot. Thanks!

I wonder how it came about that a young woman writer used an IBM. An unusual, heavy-duty choice.

Erik Bruchez said...
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Erik Bruchez said...

> I wonder how it compares to the Hermes Ambassador.

The Ambassador is not electric, except for the electric carriage return option. The Ambassador is not that light but feels really light for its size, given its aluminum frame: 31 lbs (14 kg). The IBM feels very heavy, and it is: 39.2 lbs (17.8 kg) for mine.

Erik Bruchez said...
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Erik Bruchez said...

Correction: the IBM / Electromatic is 39.2 lbs (17.8 kg), more than 8 lbs (~4 kg) heavier than then the Ambassador. The Model 01 Executive (Model 04?) weighs 45.6 lbs (20.7 kg)!

phxxer said...

I'm surprised it doesn't weigh more. I have a Friden Flexowriter, basically and IBM 01 with some added hardware (punch and paper tape reader), and I've said it weighs 85 lbs. I don't know where I got. If I could lift, I would put it on the bathroom scale.

I'm surprised that she had such a wide carriage: it must be 15" or more. More than you need for writing a novel. Phil